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Immigrants focus of new charter school

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyPrincipal Kathy Brendza shows plans for Gypsum's New America charter school, where immigrants will be taught English.
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GYPSUM ” Juan Villegas knows a half a dozen kids who should be in high school but aren’t.

They either dropped out or never went to begin with. They just couldn’t learn English quick enough to feel like they were doing any good, and taking a job made more sense. Now 32, Villegas does construction work with teenagers that are in the same position he was in 15 years ago in Denver.

“School didn’t work for me,” Villegas said.



This fall, the New America charter school will open to help those kids who want an education but are still struggling with English.

The school will target the large and growing Hispanic population in Eagle County, specifically 15- to 21-year-old students who want to learn English and want to earn a diploma.



About 150 students are expected to begin this fall.

Principal Kathy Brendza talks about a 17-year-old girl who recently signed up for the New America School.

Before dropping out, she had been placed in classes with 14 and 15 year olds ” and considering her limited English skills, it made sense, at least academically. That kind of environment wasn’t too encouraging though.



“It was demoralizing for her,” Brendza said.

Those are the kids the New America School is hoping to attract. It may be an immigrant who finished fifth grade math in Mexico, but is now 16 and wants to learn English in America. It may be a child in a family that’s traveled from city to city for work and hasn’t had a consistent school environment. Maybe there’s a kid who’s never really been to high school.

Basically, if you’re doing well on state tests, the New America School is probably not for you, Brendza said.

“We have a lot of Spanish immigrants not in school,” Brendza said.

Finding interested students hasn’t been difficult. It started with a door to door surveys in the Avon and Edwards trailer parks, then stretched to recruiting at churches, barbecues, yard signs, letters and banners.

The school will open Sept. 4 on the second floor of the Gypsum Center where a well-known Mexican restaurant and market stay busy bellow. There will also be satellite locations at Avon Elementary and Berry Creek Middle School in Edwards where English night classes will be taught.

The school will offer science, math, computers courses, social studies, language arts and English as a second language classes. All subjects will try to immerse the students in English.

The school allow students to create flexible, work-friendly class schedules. Classes are Monday through Thursday, and students with children will receive $200 a month for child care. Brendza hopes that they can open a child-care center in the Gypsum Center, not just for the students, but for the community.

If students do well at the New America School, it’s possible they could re-enroll in Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley high schools.

Brendza realizes that many of her students won’t be interested in college. The idea is to give those students the ability to function in an English-speaking work force.

“If you’re going to be a housekeeper, be the best educated housekeeper you can possibly be,” Brendza said.

There are three other New America School locations in the Denver area.

Staff writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.


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